John Brittain is escorted from the RCMP detachment in Penticton, B.C., Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in a still image made from video footage. Brittain, accused in a shooting that left four people dead in Penticton, B.C., is expected to plead guilty today in court. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Amy Smart

B.C. man pleads guilty, says he killed four people who picked on his ex-wife

B.C. man pleads guilty, says he killed four people who picked on his ex-wife

KELOWNA, B.C. — A man who pleaded guilty to four murders last year in Penticton, B.C., told a judge Wednesday he intended to kill three people and knew his actions would likely cause the death of another person.

John Brittain repeated “guilty” four times in B.C. Supreme Court when asked how he pleaded to three charges of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder.

The court heard Brittain, 69, killed Rudi Winter, Barry and Susan Wonch, and Darlene Knippelberg on April 15, 2019, shooting each of them multiple times.

He then drove to the RCMP detachment and turned himself in.

Reading from a transcript, Crown attorney Colin Forsyth said Brittain explained to a police interviewer that the victims, who were all neighbours, had been harassing his ex-wife for years.

Brittain, a former employee of the city’s engineering department, said Katherine Brittain was not aware of his intentions and never “drove the conflict train.”

“There didn’t appear to be a better way,” he told the interviewer, adding: “I’ve destroyed a lot of people’s lives today.”

Brittain said his ex-wife had told him about the harassment and he’d seen it himself.

“I did it, 100 per cent. She wasn’t there,” he said. “They, for reasons of their own, could not stop picking on her.”

Forsyth said Katherine Brittain had filed various complaints to the city, including about the Wonches, accusing them of buying, fixing and selling old furniture from their home without a business licence.

She had described Winter as a bully, Forsyth told Justice Alison Beames, adding the biggest barrier Brittain faced in leaving the relationship was his estranged wife’s ongoing feud with the neighbours.

Forsyth said that on the morning of the murders, Brittain went to work and spoke with several employees. He then returned home and left a phone message for his former wife, saying he’d planned to go to his engineering company’s former office to do some work.

Instead, Brittain, who had a licence for multiple firearms, headed out with the weapons.

The court heard he approached Winter, the first victim, as he was standing by his vehicle on the street.

Brittain called out to Winter and before the victim could turn around, Brittain started shooting, firing three more shots as Winter lay on his back, Forsyth told the court, reading from an agreed statement of facts.

He picked up the shell casings and drove to a bank, walked to the ATM and stood behind another person in line to withdraw $200, Forsyth said.

From there, Brittain drove to the home of Barry and Susan Wonch and shot the couple in their garage with a second firearm, loading a live round between each shot, he said.

Brittain calmly told a motorist who slowed down and saw a body in the garage to keep going. The witness told police Brittain said to move on, that police would take care of it, Forsyth told the court.

Brittain then walked to Knippelberg’s home, knocked on her door and shot her twice, he said.

Forsyth said police were aware of three victims when Brittain turned himself in and that he told them of a fourth victim.

Renate Winter told the court in a victim impact statement that her 71-year-old husband was a humble, kind and hard-working person who died a brutal and violent death.

The couple’s daughter, Tanya Steele, said she heard shots on the morning of her father’s murder but had no idea he was the target.

“He took away my rock. He took away my sense of feeling safe,” she said, sobbing.

“We’re a strong family. You can’t take that from us,” she said to Brittain.

Both first- and second-degree murder convictions carry a life sentence. A prisoner serving time for first-degree murder must wait 25 years before applying for parole and between 10 and 25 years for second-degree murder.

The sentencing hearing is scheduled to continue Thursday.

— By Camille Bains in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 14, 2020.

The Canadian Press

crime

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dwayne Buckle, 40 of Red Deer finished a 1,638-kilometre walk, in honour of his family. The 12-week, 82 day-journey wrapped up in Port Hardy, B.C. on Monday. Facebook photo
Red Deer man completes 1,638 km hike for cancer research

Dwayne Buckle, a Red Deer firefighter returned home Friday after his 12-week journey

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine deliveres to Canada are being delayed because of complications at their European distribution facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Delays of Pfizer vaccine delivery to impact Alberta’s vaccination plans

Alberta has administered 74,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine so far

Two inmates at Bowden Institution have tested positive for COVID-19. (Black Press File Photo)
2 Bowden inmates test positive for COVID-19

A pair of inmates at Bowden Institution have tested positive for COVID-19.… Continue reading

Salons and barbershops are able to open on Monday, the Government of Alberta announced this week. (Photo courtesy Pixabay)
Red Deer salon owner “relieved” business can re-open next week

The owner of a Red Deer salon says she’s “definitely relieved” her… Continue reading

Red Deer Valhalla Pure Outfitters owner Darren Schaedeli has seen a significant increase in those looking to tackle winter experiences. Some are trying their hand at "hot tent camping" as he did in the West Country several weeks ago.
Photo contributed
Central Albertans enjoying the great outdoors this winter

Stir crazy and beach-deprived central Albertans are embracing the great outdoors this… Continue reading

Lesser Slave Lake UCP MLA Pat Rehn. (Facebook)
Updated: Jason Kenney kicks Lesser Slave Lake MLA out of caucus

Pat Rehn will not be permitted to run for UCP nominations

One way to get infloor heating is with electrical cables installed underneath ceramic tiles. Here DITRA-HEAT cables are snapped into an uncoupling underlay that goes down before tiles. (Photo by Robert Maxwell)
Houseworks: Heating a basement under renovation

Q: Will DITRA-HEAT electric infloor heating be enough to make my finished… Continue reading

Super Valu has experienced an increase in demand for products such as toilet paper as people prepare for the coronavirus. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Hints from Heloise: Stock your closet

Dear Heloise: If this year has taught me anything, toilet paper, wipes,… Continue reading

Manchester United's Tobin Heath celebrates scoring against West Ham United during the FA Women's Super League match at Victoria Road Stadium, London, Sunday Oct. 18, 2020. (John Walton/PA via AP)
Double 1st: Man U men, women leading 2 leagues, play champs

Double 1st: Man U men, women leading 2 leagues, play champs

A group of Buffalo Bills fans from Toronto pose for a photo while tailgating in the parking lot of New Era Field before an NFL football game between the Bills and the New York Jets, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in Orchard Park, N.Y. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Adrian Kraus
Being unable to attend Bills playoff games due to pandemic pains Canadian fans

Being unable to attend Bills playoff games due to pandemic pains Canadian fans

FILE - Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant runs the bases after hitting a solo home run in the sixth inning during a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland, in this Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, file photo. Bryant is among roughly 125 players who entered Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, eligible to exchange salary arbitration figures with their teams. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)
Lindor, Bryant, Bellinger, Seager get big-money deals

Lindor, Bryant, Bellinger, Seager get big-money deals

Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash points during the third quarter of the team's NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in New York. (Brad Penner/Pool Photo via AP)
More NBA games off, as league continues struggles with virus

More NBA games off, as league continues struggles with virus

Washington Capitals' Jakub Vrana (13) is congratulated for his goal during the second period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
Vanecek makes 28 saves in NHL debut, Capitals sweep Sabres

Vanecek makes 28 saves in NHL debut, Capitals sweep Sabres

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Collin Delia (60) makes a save after Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat (18) fell down during the first period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Stamkos, Palat lift Lightning over Blackhawks again

Stamkos, Palat lift Lightning over Blackhawks again

Most Read